This year’s SIFA has a much more accessible line-up—and a distinct dystopian focus

Barely a year after its rousing end, the much anticipated Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) is back with more. From Apr 26-May 12, Singapore’s pinnacle performing arts festival will showcase a heady line-up of theater, dance, music, and literary arts performances, as well as films and experimental presentations by artists from both Singapore and around the world.

2018 marks the 41st edition of the festival (previously called the Singapore Arts Festival)—but only its fifth year as an entirely independent arts initiative. Before taking his leave, former Festival Director Ong Keng Sen famously shared his grievances with government intervention, and keeping SIFA independent. He cited interference from the state as a major roadblock, and it was a disappointing realization that media censorship still plagues even the most established artists today.

And it appears SIFA is trying to subtly speak out with its programming. The announcement of the 2018 line-up yesterday (Feb 5) saw current Festival Director Gaurav Kripalani highlight several works, which, across the different performance genres, share the common denominator of being adapted from dystopian science fiction texts.

, This year’s SIFA has a much more accessible line-up—and a distinct dystopian focus
Parable of the Sower

On May 4-5, audiences can catch an adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s dystopian text Parable of the Sower, set to music by American folk/blues musician Toshi Reagon. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change, wealth inequality, and corporate greed; Reagon’s work will explore this through a combination of African-American spirituals, soul, rock-and-roll, and folk music. Also a highlight of the festival is the contemporary theatrical adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, which deals with politician distrust and the threat of an uninformed public. In an era of fake news and growing dissent against the government, the parallels (and intentions of bringing the work in) are hard to ignore.

But most tellingly, opening the entire festival is the globally acclaimed adaptation of George Orwell’s classic, 1984. Marketed as a “timely re-telling of the dangers of lost privacy and state control in this age of pervasive technology”, the dramatic staging will be making its Southeast Asian debut at SIFA.

Of course, is isn’t just doom and gloom at SIFA 2018. The festival has in store a bevy of exciting acts that include established artists like two-time Grammy winner and jazz performer Jacob Collier, and emerging local talents like producer/DJ Intriguant, who will collaborate with visual artists Flex to put up an audiovisual showcase. For mass appeal, circus performers Cirque Rouage from France will perform an outdoor circus theater piece on Empress Lawn.

, This year’s SIFA has a much more accessible line-up—and a distinct dystopian focus
Sodade by Cirque Rouage

To further add accessibility to the festival, SIFA will also be offering discounted $10 front-row seats on selected shows for students, for the very first time. The move, said Kripalani, was to inspire them to return to SIFA each year after, just like he was himself.

“I want the next generation to know that they are very important to SIFA,” he added.

Perhaps the arts scene here isn’t a lost cause yet; the ticketing and strategic curation of works to jolt viewers into political awareness gives us hope. May it be a long time before Big Brother starts watching.

SIFA 2018 runs from Apr 26-May 12 at various venues. Tickets are on sale at all SISTIC outlets now, and early bird concessions are till Mar 5. More information here